There are certain questions that must be asked pretty much every time journalists get in the same room as senior auto-industry executives. Thanks to Volkswagen’s cheatin’ heart, the future of diesel passenger cars on both sides of the Atlantic is one of them.
After speaking to senior executives from both BMW and Mercedes-Benz at the Geneva auto show, it appears the divide is set to grow, with compression ignition having a long-term future in Europe but with prospects on our side of the Atlantic looking much less rosy.
“In the United States, [diesel] has always been a small minority,” Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales and marketing, told Car and Driver. “Interestingly, a lot of people who bought diesel in the U.S. were Europeans living in America, and they were very enthusiastic about it. But I don’t see diesel picking up in the passenger-car market in the U.S. I think it’s unlikely to have much of a future ahead of it.”
Although Robertson admitted to being frustrated by differing emissions standards in different European countries and by the fact that some of them “class all diesels the same, whether [they are] Euro 6 compliant or 25 years old,” he said BMW predicts diesels will continue for the foreseeable future, gradually being replaced by gasoline plug-in hybrids as standards tighten.
Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, is in broad agreement. “The progress that has been made with combustion engines is amazing,” he told journalists at Geneva. “In that area, the differences between a modern diesel and a gas engine are very limited. Obviously, in the U.S., if we talk about passenger cars and light trucks, the diesel has never played a significant role—that probably won’t change. In Europe it does, and more and more without a downside, with their more modern emission levels.”
Given the excellence of next-generation diesel engines like Mercedes-Benz’s new four-cylinder and BMW’s mighty 3.0-liter six, that’s a huge shame.